american goldfinch

Shooting Finches from the Couch

I've mentioned the remote shooting capabilities of my new camera before. Essentially, there's an iPhone app that allows me to see what's in the frame, adapt several settings from the iPhone (ISO, shutter speed, focus behavior), and activate the shutter.

I've been plotting for weeks to stake out the Goldfinches at the thistle feeder, and I finally managed it this morning. I set the camera a few feet from the feeder, got the feeder in frame, focused manually on the feeder itself, and went back in the house.

It took the finches about fifteen minutes to feel safe enough to return to the feeder, and by that time, I had my coffee and was sitting on the couch, watching the feeder on the phone.

There's a bit of delay between triggering the shutter from the phone and the actual snap at the camera, but by taking lots of exposures ( about ninety over the course of a few minutes), I was able to get a handful that were really nice.

The shutter on the 6D isn't at all loud, but I think all the clicking did occasionally cause the birds to look over quizzically, because there are more than a few shots in which at least one bird has cocked a head at the funny box.

I'm also very much enjoying the full frame sensor on this camera. For remote shooting, it allowed me to keep the whole feeder and a good margin in frame, and then I could crop very aggressively—as I did below—while still keeping great clarity and detail.


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Full-Feathered Gold

The Goldfinches, who last appeared in duller winter plumage, are in full dress yellows now, and they’ve been frequenting the feeders on and off.

Even the females are brighter now than they were a few months ago, though they lack the incredible contrast of their counterparts.

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In My Mind, I've Gone to the Suet Feeder


We set out suet for the woodpeckers and nuthatches, and in the relatively short time it’s been out, I’ve seen White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers visit it.

Another frequent visitor to the feeder is a pair of Carolina Wrens. Perhaps I’d written off sightings of these wrens in the past as sightings of House Wrens, since they’re fairly similar—though impossible to mistake once you know the difference—but when they kept coming to the feeder, I realized they were something new to me, so I IDed them and then staked them out with the tripod and a telephoto.

It took about 1/2 hour standing absolutely still, freezing, and 75 exposures as the sun came and went and the feeder slowly rotated in the shadow of the cedar tree, but I finally got a good one.

My telephoto is only a 75x300, so if I want to take a picture of small birds, I need to get fairly close and then wait, absolutely still, until they come back. Thus, it’s easier to get pictures of less skittish, more feeder-oriented birds like Finches. The Carolina Wren was quite a challenge, since he would hide in the bushes whenever I came outside, so I had to set up the telephoto and wait him out.

The Flicker and the Red-bellied Woodpecker have proven impossible so far. The Red-bellied doesn’t just hide nearby; he flies off through the trees entirely if I open a door.

I like this picture because it seems a bit like an advertisement for the feeder. Just set out thistle, and as soon as one Goldfinch finds it, you’ll have a couple of dozen visiting your yard regularly. And while they’ll fly up into the trees if you move too much, they’ll come back fairly quickly once you stand still again.

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My Favorite Gold


My favorite kinds of Gold are the kinds you don’t really own. My father handed this particular Gold down to me, and I am absolutely rich.

Almost anywhere in America, all you have to do is set out some thistle seed in the right kind of feeder, and you’re Midas.

In the winter, the American Goldfinch isn’t as spectacular as the males can get in summer—and I promise to try to catch that on film too—but they’re handsome birds at any time of year.

Catch them in the right light, in fact, and you can see muted hints of all the gold you could want. By today’s gold prices, an average Goldfinch would be worth about $68. My yard is full of jewels.

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